Catholics around the world could not have imagined that a Roman Catholic cardinal and archbishop, George Pell, a close confidant of the Pope would ever be convicted in a civil court for the sexual abuse of two altar boys aged 13. He was treasurer of the Vatican Bank.
That conviction was handed down in Australia last December. The court has released only this week news of that conviction due to the fact that there was another historical case of alleged child sexual abuse against him and cover-up of similar crimes of priests in his diocese. This case was recently withdrawn and the December verdict against the cardinal could be revealed. The cardinal has had bail withdrawn and he is already in detention and will receive a jail sentence. He is considered innocent until the appeal is done.
He has consistently pleaded innocent and vehemently denied such acts of sexual abuse against the two boys, 13-year old altar servers ever happened. A jury however found the cardinal guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Pope Francis has ordered that the cardinal be removed from all public ministries and never to have any contact with children.
When one of the highest ranking prelates of the church has been convicted and jailed for child sexual abuse, it is a historical event that should not be forgotten or consigned to the archives of memory. The wounds of abuse are still felt by many thousands of the victims of child sexual abuse all over the world. It is a powerful message to the Church hierarchy to turn over all suspected child abusing priests to the civil authorities and help the victims.
The pain remains with the victims all their lives unless it is poured out in therapy and expunged from the deepest recesses of the personality of the individual. “Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life,” Pell’s victim said on Tuesday in a statement through his solicitor Vivian Waller. “The process has been stressful and it is not over yet. I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process.”
Child sex abuse victims have seldom had a forum where the victim could freely tell or make a complaint. Pope Francis said that they “hear the cry of the victims for justice,” but what direct action is taken to get justice for the children? The children suffer greatly and if anyone doubts that and wants to hear the cry of the victims, please click on the link and view the one-minute video showing child victims of sexual abuse releasing their emotions. This is in the Preda Foundation therapy room as they cry out their anger, hatred and pain at their abusers and punch the cushions as if hitting their abuser.
The crime against children has been denied, ignored and suppressed for centuries, never mentioned or discussed in public until the 1970s. The child was blamed for inducing such abuse no less and cowered into silence by threats and fear. But most could never keep it buried inside, it always emerges, damaging their lives affecting their studies, careers, their marriages or relationships.
One of the two victims in the case against Cardinal George Pell died of drug overdose in 2014. Apparently, he was so hurt his need for painkillers overwhelmed him and brought about his early death. The abuse could have been the cause of that tragic event. The conviction of George Pell might finally bring the Vatican to issue a Zero Tolerance Policy which survivors and victims have been demanding. These survivors and victims were angry when the recent meeting on child abuse in the Vatican did not address it.
The historic meeting in Rome called by Pope Francis to address the crises in the Church opened with the words of the Pope, ‘‘we hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice.” But have the age-old prelates listened to this cry? The bishops, all old men who mostly remained silent during the proceedings recalling perhaps the times that some may have transferred child sex abuser priests to other parishes or abroad and covered up the crime and allow them to continue. They will fear being held to account for such a crime now that a court of law has convicted one of their own. It was the outspoken women, religious sisters and victims who were most passionate in their statements during the meeting.
It is hoped that the conviction of Cardinal George Pell will send the message that no one is beyond justice and all must be held accountable and brought to answer credible evidence. We hope that the Philippine bishops will now refer the child victims of clergy sexual abuse to the therapy centers so the victims can be helped and healed.